These dietary, lifestyle and supplemental strategies are like bench presses for your immune system. (One might involve actual bench presses.) Get ready to get cold-fighting fit with four powerful approaches.
1. Daily boosts
Changing everyday habits can bolster your immune function.
Work it out
Exercise is a powerful immune supporter, especially in people who are dealing with stress. Along with keeping number of colds and flus to a minimum, exercise is a potent mood booster that will keep you coasting through those family get-togethers.
Sleep it off
In an experiment where people were intentionally exposed to a cold-causing virus, those who slept fewer than seven hours a night or had poor quality sleep were three to five times more likely to develop an infection. Get some help and consider supplements like valerian, melatonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) if you’re not getting your ZZZs.
Meditate … and maybe make macramé
Periods of busyness and high stress drain our immune systems, leaving us susceptible to infections. Colds and flus can take up residence after we’ve simply been pushing ourselves too hard. Stress-busting strategies like deep breathing, meditation or even indulging in some holiday crafting may help drop your risk of getting sick.
People whose care providers showed empathy toward their patients’ cold symptoms had shorter, less severe colds and better immune responses. Might this work between friends? Show a little love and find out.
2. Water wisdom
Harness the healing power of hydrotherapy.
Flush the system
The Ayurvedic tradition of nasal irrigation, practiced with a neti pot or squeeze bottle, can reduce congestion and improve breathing during a cold. If pouring salt water through your nose just isn’t your thing, gargle with plain water several times daily to cut illness risk by over a third. In addition, frequent hand washing during flu season will thwart many infections.
Take a cold shower
It may sound more unpleasant than burpees followed by wall-sits, but the tried-and-true traditional strategy of a 30-second cold rinse after a warm shower may reduce time spent suffering with cold symptoms. Contrast showers can improve pain and depression, suggesting that this practice stimulates both immune function and brain chemistry.
Opt for steamy solutions
At the other end of the temperature spectrum, hot and steamy drinks ease nasal symptoms, warming us from the inside out. Breathing in steam from a large bowl of hot water can also be soothing, but be aware that burns are a concern; supervised warm showers are a safer steam therapy choice for kids.
3. Medicinal foods
Eat for immunity by stocking up on these foods.
Try tofu and tahini
Protein has a vital role in immune function. High-protein diets can protect against infection when we’re running ourselves ragged. Make sure you’re getting plant-based protein with every meal and snack during cold and flu season.
Eat your greens (and reds)
Bioflavonoids are mighty plant chemicals found in colorful foods like tomatoes, cabbage and even tea. These antioxidant compounds can cut infections by as much as 33 percent, providing yet another reason to eat your fruits and veggies.
Make it mushrooms
Levels of zinc and selenium in mushrooms may explain their immune-supporting effects. One cup of cremini mushrooms provides over 40 percent of one’s daily requirement of selenium and about 10 percent of that of zinc.
4. Extra helpers
Botanical extracts, nutrients and even probiotics can support your mission to stay healthy.
Pick plant partners
Many plants have antimicrobial properties as they need to fend off microscopic predators in their natural environments. Echinacea and ginger are well known for their immune effects, while aged garlic extract and Andrographis paniculata are gaining renown for their influence on cold frequency and symptoms. Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), traditionally boiled to make a syrup, showed similar benefits in a study of air travelers.
Make “Viva vitamins!” your mantra
Vitamin C and zinc are well known for their cold-shortening properties, but an important role for vitamin D is also emerging. Lower blood levels of vitamin D are associated with more frequent respiratory tract infections, while daily vitamin D supplementation can lead to more cold-free days.
Take tiny immune helpers
Taking probiotics in either food or supplement form has been shown to reduce cold frequency by as much as 55 percent, likely due to their influence on gut-based immune cells. This simple strategy may save you days of sniffles this winter!
Mushroom extracts like shiitake-based active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) can boost immune response to the flu vaccine.
Aye aye, adaptogens!
Adaptogens may help reduce the negative impacts of stress, the enemy of immunity. Ashwagandha (an anti-inflammatory and calming tonic), rhodiola (taken to help boost the immune system and improve stamina) and holy basil (believed to relieve fatigue and elevate mood) can help get your adrenal stress response into tip-top shape.